Century Marks

Century Marks

Your tax dollars

Since 1995 the U.S. Army has canceled 22 weapons systems. About $32 billion has been spent in that time on equipment that was never built. For example, in 2000 the Comanche helicopter was deemed the most important army weapon in development. Four years later it was canceled after nearly 20 years of development work at a cost of close to $6 billion. One Pentagon insider calls the Defense Department "the Department of Wishful Thinking." In spite of talk about defense cuts, encouraged by outgoing defense secretary Robert Gates, the wishful thinking continues. The cost of the next generation of Humvees in development is up to $320,000 per unit (Washington Post, May 27).

Joining voices

Kent Tritle, an organist who conducts professional and amateur choirs in New York, says that choral music is the art form that attracts the greatest amount of participation in the country. About one in every five or six households has someone who participates in a choir of some sort—which adds up to about 22 million Americans. Tritle attributes the popularity of choral singing to the sense of community that members experience and to the pleasure of making music together. "There's nothing more joyous than seeing the thrill on the faces of new amateur singers . . . when they first take part in that sonority," Tritle says (Wall Street Journal, May 25).

Going dry

Thanks to irrigation, Saudi Arabia has been able to grow its own supply of wheat for more than 20 years. But wheat production is collapsing because the aquifer used for irrigation is almost depleted. Water supplies and grain production are also declining in Syria and Iraq. Wells are starting to go dry in parts of India. China is overpumping water, especially in the North China Plain. About half the world's population lives in countries where the water tables are falling. Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea have been leasing or buying land in other countries, especially Ethiopia and Sudan, to grow grain for their citizens. The potential for conflict between countries over water is very high, says environmentalist Lester Brown (Foreign Policy, May/June).

Making the grade

Researchers say that Republican and Democratic professors grade their students differently. Democrats tend to be more egalitarian, meaning that more of their grades fall in the middle. Republicans tend to hand out both more high grades and more low grades, and they give lower grades to blacks than do Demo­crats. The researchers compared thousands of test scores between 2000 and 2004 at an unnamed elite university. They compared the test scores to SAT scores in order to rule out any pattern of Democratic or Republican professors attracting better students (InsideHigherEd.com, May 20).

Neither beggar nor borrower

Through 16 centuries the church officially upheld the biblical prohibition against charging interest. Its concern was to protect poor people, on the basis of the Old Testament belief that the God who rescued the Hebrew people from enslavement looks out for the poor. That tradition fell out of favor when Deism arose and God was removed from economic life. But how society deals with debt is a sign of the quality of its corporate life, says M. Douglas Meeks. Jesus taught forgiveness of debtors. The current economic crisis, caused in no small part by bad lending practices, demands that the charging of interest be regulated out of concern for the poor (Interpretation, April).